Religious Freedom? Who Cares?

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By Rob Schwarzwalder, The Stream - Today, even in America, religious liberty is under threat. Family Research Council’s “Free to Believe” website offers example after example of how ordinary Americans seeking to live by their faith have come under legal and social attack. There are some encouraging signs. But obeying the demands of the God you worship can be tough in our secular society.

By Rob Schwarzwalder, a Senior Contributor, The Stream, November 16, 2018

Rob SchwarzwalderSam Brownback’s public service has taken him from the wheat fields of the great plains to the highest halls of power. Raised on a farm in Garnett, Kansas he went on to become his state’s agriculture commissioner, then a U.S. Congressman, and after that a U.S. Senator. Leaving the Senate, he was twice elected governor of the Sunflower State.

When President Trump asked him to become the State Department’s Ambassador for Religious Freedom, he quickly answered the call. There he’s working to advance the freedom not only of religious belief but the freedom to practice that belief in daily life around the world.

High Stakes

Brownback knows the stakes are high. Religious liberty is the foundation of all of liberties.

As is well-documented, religious persecution is growing throughout the world. And if religious liberty is crushed, all liberties suffer. As he put it at last week’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of the International Religious Freedom Act, “You get religious freedom right — a lot of other freedoms bloom. You get it wrong, a lot of other freedoms contract.”

Today, even in America, religious liberty is under threat. Family Research Council’s “Free to Believe” website offers example after example of how ordinary Americans seeking to live by their faith have come under legal and social attack. There are some encouraging signs. But obeying the demands of the God you worship can be tough in our secular society.

If religious liberty is threatened in this country, it’s going to be even more deeply threatened in other countries. We have a Constitution that enshrines it and a history of protecting it. Most countries don’t. In fact, most countries have a history of forcing a particular religion on their people. Or, in the case of Communist countries, of forcing an anti-religious ideology on their people.

Around the world, religious persecution is intensifying. For example, in the world’s largest nation, the Maoists in charge wage what even Britain’s liberal Guardian newspaper calls a “war on Christianity.” And it is not just Christians. Beijing is running scared about anyone showing greater loyalty to their faith than to the government.

America Takes Notice

Thankfully, U.S. policymakers are taking notice. “The United States and the international communities will continue to express our concerns with respect to China’s repression of religious groups — Christians, Buddhists, and 800,000 to possibly millions of Muslims — that have been denied their freedoms,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He spoke after meeting with Chinese government leaders last week.

Religious liberty in other countries matters to the American conscience. We believe it is something we should defend and promote for the good of others. But does their religious freedom matter to us, for our own self-interest? To put it bluntly, should Americans who don’t care about other nations’ religious liberty, really care about it?

Yes. Where religious liberty flourishes, other freedoms follow, and community, social stability, economic prosperity and other blessings follow from that.

American Security Linked to Religious Liberty

That means greater world stability and, therefore, less worry for the United States. A more stable and peaceful world means a more peaceful and prosperous America.

As Thomas Farr, the first Director of the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, explained this in Senate testimony last month. “Advancing religious freedom can help stabilize nations like Egypt, Iraq, or Russia, whose stability is vital to our interests. It can reduce armed conflict and undermine religion-based terrorism in places like Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria. It can reduce the suffering of people persecuted for their religious beliefs in nations like China and India.” Farr is now president of the Religious Freedom Institute.

That’s a useful argument to make with those who don’t care about religious liberty. But our fundamental reason as Christians to defend religious liberty is simpler. We want others to share the blessings we have. If the Good News about Jesus cannot go forward without restriction, people suffer. Now and in eternity.

Christians who suffer for their faith need the support of those of us with a lot of religious liberty. Prayer, financial support for ministries to the persecuted, and finding out how to reach out to those imprisoned for their faith from groups like Voice of the Martyrs and Open Doors.

Sam Brownback and his team have their work cut out for them. It’s some of the most important work in the world. They, and those they serve, need our ongoing prayer.


Rob Schwarzwalder is a Senior Contributor at The Stream and a Senior Lecturer at Regent University. Raised in Washington State, he lived with his family in the suburban D.C. area for nearly 25 years until coming to Regent in the summer of 2016. Rob was Senior Vice-President at the Family Research Council for more than seven years, and previously served as chief-of-staff to two Members of Congress. He was also a communications and media aide to a U.S. Senator and senior speechwriter for the Hon. Tommy Thompson, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. For several years, he was Director of Communications at the National Association of Manufacturers. While on Capitol Hill, he served on the staffs of members of both Senate and House Armed Services Committees and the Senate Committee with oversight of federal healthcare policy.

Rob is focused on the intersection of theology, culture and politics. His background in public policy has been informed by his service on Capitol Hill, the private sector and various Christian ministries. His op-eds have been published in numerous national publications, ranging from TIME and U.S. News and World Report to Christianity Today, The Federalist and The Public Discourse, as well as scores of newspapers and opinion journals. He has been interviewed on National Public Radio, Fox News, and other leading television and radio programs. Rob’s scholarly publications include studies of such issues as fatherlessness, pornography, federal economic policy and national security.

Rob has done graduate work at George Washington University and holds an M.A. in theology from Western Seminary (Portland, Ore.) and an undergraduate degree from Biola University. He and his wife of 35 years, Valerie, make their home in Virginia Beach and have three children.